When I first got an extended look at Dying Light 2 at E3 2019, it was the scale and ambition that impressed me more than anything else.
As much as I enjoyed the first game, I always felt it lacked the scale to really take advantage of the excellent parkour and interesting world.
The size of Dying Light 2's European setting and the world-changing narrative decisions that Techland has showcased since the game's reveal really increased my excitement for the sequel.
Recently, Techland invited me to play about four hours of Dying Light 2: Stay Human on PC (as well as a short time on PS4 Pro) and the ambition still impresses me to no end, although some other aspects of the game haven't taken quite the leap forward I expected.
Faster, Better, Higher, Stronger
The first thing I noticed after jumping into Dying Light 2 was the scale. The first game had a lot going on, but the world didn't feel huge, with open fields outnumbering the villages and built-up areas.
Techland has said that Dying Light 2's map is four times the size of the original's map, but you can really feel that scale while running around.
It's not just the literal size of the map either, the world is a lot bigger vertically too. Before you even reach the business district, you'll find windmills, towers, and old towns to climb and explore. There's a lot more than dusty shacks surrounding the one big skyscraper. It's impressive.
The parkour is also improved by the expanded setting. The mechanics of running and jumping aren't vastly different, still feeling a little imprecise at times, but traversal is undeniably faster and more fluid.
Get into the flow of things and it's great, with the skills you unlock by progressing letting you weave parkour into combat seamlessly. Jumping from roof to roof, diving onto a zombie and slicing them open will never not be satisfying. With the more complex routes and floors to climb, as well as increased speed, Dying Light 2 feels a lot better.
You'll get caught on ledges from time to time and Aiden will sometimes leap to his death for no reason when the game can't keep up with the speed of things, but for the most part simple exploration is a clear step up and comfortably Dying Light 2's highlight, as it was in the first game.
The biggest single change to the traversal is focused in that business district, with Aiden being introduced to a makeshift hand-glider that allows him to float between skyscrapers.
As cool a change from the running it is, controlling the hand-glider is a bit awkward and the air vents you fly over to maintain height feel a bit forced. It makes moments of exploration feel like levels in Astro's Playroom, but a bit slower, as you float from one plume of steam to another, and it doesn't really fit with the fluidity of the rest of the game.
Dying Light 2's other big new feature, the long-promised world-changing choices, are still really interesting, though. While I was able to make one of those massive choices in my time with the game, I didn't really see how it changes my world and how it would differ if I'd made the opposite choice, but the idea is still a cool one that's at the centre of Dying Light 2's big story quests.
We'll have to wait until we can compare our full game experience with others' to really see how dramatic the changes can be.
Speaking to us after our time with the game, Tymon Smektala, Dying Light 2's Lead Designer said that these world-changing events will really push co-op play, and I can see that happening if the changes are as dramatic as they seem. He said:
"That's why we also always wanted to make your decisions change the world, because then when you visit your friend's world you see they are different because you've played it differently, because you have access to different mechanics, so hopefully, and this is our huge bet, hopefully, it'll work as we intended it to. Hopefully, this will really make people play the game a lot, especially in co-op."
A Beautiful World to Explore
Dying Light 2's European setting is interesting before any of those world-changing events, though. It's far more detailed and varied than the first game's, with the impact of the apocalypse being much more pronounced.
The moss and vine covered towns are mixed in with fantasy RPG style settlements and long abandoned cities. It's beautiful too, mostly leaving the browns of Dying Light 1 behind.
Looking off into the distance reminded me that Techland's game still needs some time in the oven, though, with the horizon not matching the quality of what you see up close.
There's a lot more to see and do in Dying Light 2 as well. You'll find Corruptor boss enemies in containment zones around the map, which you can fight for rewards, and small side quests are absolutely everywhere, with many of them changing depending on if you tackle them at night or during the day.
How many zombies you need to fight through, how your immunity level will change, and what rewards you get can all change depending on what time of the day you venture out.
Night works in the same way as it did in Dying Light 1, focusing on the risk vs. reward, but it's more pronounced in Stay Human with how much there is to do.
Swing and a Miss
The other aspect of Dying Light 2 that feels much the same is the combat. There's a greater fluidity to it, as well as more weapons, but it's still pretty imprecise. You'll do a lot of waving of various sticks and planks in the general direction of enemies, rather than pulling off pinpoint attacks.
Bows and guns allow you to be a bit more precise, but using melee is how you'll approach most fights, and it doesn't feel as improved as you'd expect for a game that's coming up on seven years more advanced.
The vagueness of the melee combat also made the few boss fights I played a little frustrating. The left-bumper dodge makes you feel quite agile, but hit detection was completely off. I was getting hit with attacks that clearly missed me by a good few feet, and when my own attacks didn't hit reliably, I found myself always on the back foot.
It's nice that boss fights provide a reason to actually think about combat, rather than just being a battering ram as you are with basic zombies, but the fights need to be refined a little so that you're actually rewarded for approaching them in a smart way.
Star Studded Story
The narrative that introduces those bosses is really promising, though. The basis of Dying Light 2's story is that Aiden (you) is trying to find his younger sister and is playing the world's various factions against each other to do so.
Along the way, you're introduced to a variety of quirky characters, including some famous faces such as Rosario Dawson, and they either work with you or against you.
With frequent dialogue choices, vastly improved facial animations, and mostly excellent voice acting, the cutscenes are a lot more compelling than they were in Dying Light 1. And considering the importance of branching narrative paths, I can see the story developing in some really interesting ways.
You can tell that Techland has put a lot of work into making Dying Light 2's story compelling, and what I've seen of it seems like they're succeeding, even if I wasn't 100% sure quite what was going on without playing the game's early hours of introduction.
It's also worth noting that I explored Dying Light 2's world for a short period of time on PS4 Pro and was mostly impressed. While the frequency of frame rate issues is concerning, it looks pretty good and the parkour is just as smooth as on PC.
Dying Light 2 might not be quite the level of improvement over the first game that I was expecting, but there are enough interesting elements and alterations that have me excited for the full game.
The huge and gorgeous world is a big step forward from the slums of the first game and the potentially landscape changing narrative events could make for a really engaging story. Also, while the gameplay is disappointingly only a little more fluid, leaping across rooftops and smashing in zombie skulls will never not be a lot of fun.
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